James Nicoll Reviews

Home > Reviews > By Date

Reviews from February 2015 (24)

A world of ancient magics

The March North  (Commonweal, book 1)

By Graydon Saunders  

19 Feb, 2015

Special Requests


Few now live who recall the great days of USENET newsgroups such as rec.arts.sf-lovers, rec.arts.sf.fandom, and soc.singles [1]. Long ago, in that time mortal folk called the nineteen nineties, these groups were vibrant and interesting; we strode like gods across the internet. Well, we had even more arguments than the deities, but a lot less incest, which I think balances it all out. Graydon Saunders was one of the regulars, whom we called, in our quaint argot, regulars.’ He became a writer of books. I became a reviewer of books. I am sure you can see where this is going. 

2014’s The March North is set in a world where the written word has been around for perhaps a hundred thousand years, or perhaps even longer. Where magic has incessantly shaped and reshaped the environment (geological and biological). Where you cannot understand this world without knowing of magic and its history; it would be like trying to make sense of our world while ignoring the existence of grasses. 

Read more ➤

His chief delight was to eat and sleep; and after that — he liked best to make mischief.

The Wonderful Adventures of Nils

By Selma Lagerlöf  (Translated by Velma Swanston Howard)

18 Feb, 2015



I didn’t expect my second review of a novel by a Nobel Laureate to arrive so soon after the first but … not only did author Selma Lagerlöf win a Nobel, she was the very first woman to win the Nobel Prize in Literature, which she accomplished in 1909. Go, Lagerlöf!

That’s not an approving gaze I am getting from the author 

so let’s just move on to the review.

Read more ➤

Congress of Monsters

Zero Sum Game  (Russell’s Attic, book 1)

By S L Huang  

17 Feb, 2015

Special Requests


2014’s Zero Sum Game, the first volume in the Russell’s Attic series by S. L. Huang (1), is a superhero novel of sorts. If protagonist Cas Russell were a member of the classic-era Legion of Superheroes, her place at the table would have the placard super-math.” Except, to be honest, while her ability to carry out highly complex applied mathematical calculations is impressive enough to qualify as a bona fide superpower, the LSH would probably bar her from membership on the basis of the trail of bodies she leaves behind her. In fact, a neutral observer might be more inclined to classify Cas as something more along the lines of a supervillain. 

Read more ➤

One of Yesterday’s More Interesting Tomorrows

The Shockwave Rider

By John Brunner  

15 Feb, 2015

Because My Tears Are Delicious To You


John Brunner is perhaps best remembered for a quartet of novels: 1968’s Stand on Zanzibar, 1969’s The Jagged Orbit, 1972’s The Sheep Look Up, and 1975’s The Shockwave Rider. I have been known to call them the Morose Quartet. There’s an unsourced claim on Wikipedia that they are called The Club of Rome Quartet. I prefer my title. 

Rather like the Pohl and Kornbluth garbageman [1] novels of the 1950s, each of Brunner’s four dystopias wrestles with a different Big Issue that society faced in the 1960s and 1970s (and arguably still faces). Stand on Zanzibar looked at a world crammed to the gunwales with Seven! Billion! People!, The Jagged Orbit looked at an America where racial hatred, paranoia, and violence provide an unparalleled opportunity for gun salesmen; The Sheep Look Up was concerned with pollution-driven ecological collapse. The final novel, the one I am going to review today, was 1975’s The Shockwave Rider, whose central concern was something pundit Alvin Toffler called Future Shock: the disorienting experience of being flooded with more information than one can possibly process.

Read more ➤

A simple, daring plan which at practically every stage was packed with things that could go wrong

The Escape Orbit

By James White  

14 Feb, 2015

Special Requests


I was very excited to be commissioned to review this novel. White is one of my favorite authors. Even his Sector General stories, which are not my thing, get points for having plots driven by something other than violence. Not only that, but this is one of the few James White novels that I had never read. What could go wrong?

Well, two things. First, 1965’s The Escape Orbit is as close to MilSF as White ever got. Second, there is one thing about White’s fiction that I often find troublesome. Unfortunately for me, that one thing is front and center in this novel. 

Read more ➤

Cold War Time War

The Time Traders  (Time Traders, book 1)

By Andre Norton  

13 Feb, 2015

50 Nortons in 50 Weeks


1958’s The Time Traders is the first of seven books featuring Ross Murdoch. Four of these (The Time Traders, Galactic Derelict, The Defiant Agents, and Key Out of Time) were written by Norton solo and three (Firehand, Echoes in Time, and Atlantis Endgame) were written in collaboration with other writers.

I could tell you a funny story about the series but … no, I will get to it later on.

Read more ➤

From the world of Mesoamerican myth

The Bone Flower Throne  (Bone Flower Trilogy, book 1)

By T L Morganfield  

12 Feb, 2015

Miscellaneous Reviews


2013’s The Bone Flower Throne, the first book in the Bone Flower Trilogy, is set in the world of Mesoamerican myth, specifically, the story of the great Priest-King Ce Acatl Topiltzin Quetzalcoatl. (In an afterword, the author compares him to King Arthur, which I think is off the mark for reasons I will explain later). I enjoy works set in or drawing on the Pre-Columbian cultures of the New World, but have been unable to find more than a few such works. Fortunately, the author of this book, T. L. Morgenfield, is on my Livejournal friends list, which made finding her book just that wee bit easier.

Of course, just because a work falls into a genre I find interesting and just because I know the author doesn’t mean I have to like the book. I could be the sort of monumental dick who asks for a review copy and finding it not to his taste, rewards the courtesy with a scathing review [1]. Or I might not be. Let’s find out!

Read more ➤

Back to the Raksura

Stories of the Raksura: Volume One: The Falling World & The Tale of Indigo and Cloud  (Raksura, book 4)

By Martha Wells  

10 Feb, 2015

Miscellaneous Reviews


Well’s 2014 collection Stories of the Raksura: Volume One: The Falling World & The Tale of Indigo and Cloud shares a setting, the Three Worlds, with some of Wells’ previous works: The Cloud Roads, The Serpent Sea, and The Siren Depths.

I should admit, up front, that this review isn’t really a Tuesday Rediscovery so much as it is a review of a book I had intended to review long before now. I am using my Rediscovery slot to highlight a book that, IMHO, deserves highlighting. 

Read more ➤